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Twists & Turns of Confronting Zoning Ordinances Demonstrated in Old Mission Peninsula

A group of wineries located in Michigan’s Peninsula Township sued the Township in October 2020, in federal court.  The case, Wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula v. Peninsula Township, is a result after long ongoing negotiations and conflict over zoning ordinances. The lawsuit concerns constitutional challenges to multiple restrictions within the ordinances, inclusive of limitations on hours of operation, the volume of music permitted, and size of events allowed at the wineries.

Zoning ordinances regulate how land within a defined area is to be used and what property owners may, in essence, build, develop, produce, and/or operate on their land.  For example, given the scenic rural landscape in Peninsula Township, some ordinances seek to preserve that landscape.  It follows however, that certain ordinances may and have negatively impacted property owners.  As a matter of law, zoning must allow relief if applying the regulation of the zoning ordinance would result in practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship for a property owner.  With each local government, a Zoning Board of Appeals is usually established, which is appointed to review, interpret, and resolve requested variances. A variance is what a property owner would officially request and submit to the Zoning Board of Appeals when faced with an ordinance that conflicts with the owner’s use of the property.  Generally, if relief is denied by the local Zoning Board property owners may appeal to the courts and bring constitutional challenges against the ordinances.

One of the challenges brought by the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula against the Township was that certain zoning ordinances were preempted by Michigan law.  Zoning ordinances are enacted under local laws by local governments under state law.  As such, statutes and case law at the state and federal levels outweigh provisions enabled by local governments. Specifically, looking to the provision prohibiting amplified music, a federal judge found such zoning provision to be preempted by state law.  Therefore, that specific section within the Township Ordinance was struck down in a ruling this past June 2022.

Preemption by state or federal law is not the only route available to challenge local zoning ordinances. Depending on the use impacted and provisions under a zoning ordinance, other constitutional challenges may be applicable to a property owner’s case.  In that same June 2022 ruling, certain language in the Township’s Zoning Ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, and the restriction of event sizes for the Old Mission Wineries constituted as an infringement on commercial speech. Therefore, these particular provisions were deemed unlawful regulations as well.

It is worth noting, the Old Mission Peninsula Wineriescase is ongoing and on appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the June 2022 ruling thereby allowing the Township to continue enforcing its Zoning Ordinances. Moreover, a new party, Protect the Peninsula, has joined the suit, arguing their own property values would be diminished if the Wineries were permitted to host larger events and play amplified music.

As such, new challenges and issues to other property rights are increasingly relevant with the Peninsula Township’s proposed ordinances. Moreover, regulations are consistently modified and updated based on instances such as those observed in this lawsuit.  For instance, as a result of the Old Mission Peninsula Wineries lawsuit, Peninsula Township officials have proposed and voted on new zoning ordinances.  These new proposed ordinances could not only impact the existing wineries in the area but, also have a ripple effect on farmers located in the same region. Recently, some farmers expressed concern that new ordinance rules could impede on their right to add value to their products.  Such concerns have been rebutted, with the Township emphasizing there are protections in place for rural landscapes already.

Nevertheless, changes or amendments to zoning ordinances and maps is not an uncommon occurrence.  By consequence, it is almost inevitable at some point in time certain parcels of land or property owners will be affected.

Enacted zoning ordinances are not written in stone and may be subject to state and/or federal law. Therefore, when faced with regulations that unfairly limit the use of land, consulting with an experienced attorney can ensure one is well-equipped in protecting their property rights.  The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have extensive and longstanding experience in assisting land use matters with respect to zoning.  Please contact (313) 859-6000 to speak to one of our professionals.

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